And…this is it. After a whole year of writing this story, I can proudly say I’ve completed the most ambitious project of my writing career so far. There were times when I wasn’t certain I wanted to go on, but knowing people were reading spurred me to continue. I could never have let The Clockwork Raven die while it had this much support.
One final special thanks to all my Patreon supporters, who went far beyond anything I could have expected of them. This story belongs to everyone but it owes its existence to you.
Obviously, there will be some changes to the website, largely to direct people over to The Glass Thief—which will be back in full swing starting next week. But please, keep telling your friends about The Clockwork Raven, and directing anybody you think would like the story to start reading from the beginning!
What’s next for me? Well, I’m going to edit this 175,000-word monster into something publishable as a YA novel. I have two other books, and many short stories, that I’m excited to plunge into. And of course my other serial. When you’re a writer you have to keep moving forward.
One last thing: I’ve hoped all along that this might inspire someone to start telling their own story. If that’s how the serial made you feel, please let me know, and tell me where I can find your work!
With that…on to the epilogue.
THREE MONTHS LATER
“…now, make sure that you elevate the affected limb before you apply any treatment.”
“I’ve got it.” Calvin placed the old woman’s leg into the hanging brace. She smiled indulgently at him, apparently fine with getting a trainee instead of the Remedium-certified healer she’d expected. But this woman had had some adventures and was a known old hand with breaking bones.
“And apply the disinfectant like we practiced.”
“Now set it.”
Calvin glanced worriedly back at Rose. “I dunno if I’m…”
“McConnell.” Rose folded her arms. “We practiced.”
“It’s all right, dear,” the woman added helpfully.
Calvin breathed deeply, gritted his teeth, and with a single motion jerked the woman’s leg back into place. She screamed, caught her breath, and applauded.
Rose smiled, not wanting to betray too much joy to her first student. “Good work. Time for the splint.”
As Calvin went to place the wooden brace on the woman’s fracture, his fingers slipped, causing the bandage to unravel. His face burned red. Before Rose could cry out, “No, don’t!”, a sulking badger had replaced Calvin beside the gurney. He scrabbled against the cavern floor, looking morose.
Rose sighed, shifted to the snake, and slithered around to gather the bandage and splint. By the time she turned back, Calvin had too, and was busily applying the bandage again. Rose had indeed chosen her apprentice well.
Three months ago, she could never have imagined having one. But there was no other way, really–not unless she wanted to leave Rust Town without a healer.
In the week after the Heartsphere landed and disgorged a blinking Dr. Edward Griffin and two bedraggled children in tow, the decision had made itself. Nobody was quite sure who had initiated it, but suddenly they were all talking about it as though it was a sure thing. Several nights since she had asked Griff if it was what he actually wanted, and he said yes so quickly she could imagine him wagging his tail even in human form.
Some people had made the switch to the new Rust Town without blinking. Yet others, without the sphere in the sky and with the crystal’s glow permanently shut off, felt purposeless. The fact was that Rose and Griff had known their job in Rust Town was done the moment the Neogah departed.
Rose satisfied herself that Calvin wasn’t going to make anything worse, excused herself outside, and clambered onto a rooftop that offered her a view downhill. The day was clear, so she could see all the way to the beach at the bottom of the island. There the great sphere sat crumbling.
She counted the jigsaw-puzzle-shaped holes where chunks had fallen out of the Heartsphere and crumbled to dust below. More today than yesterday.
She’d been on the island for nearly ten years, yet she’d always felt the newcomer, never quite allowed into conversations among people whose grandparents had been chasing treasure from Rust. Maybe that explained why her cobbled-together family wasn’t among the ones expanding food plots, building fishing vessels and warehouses, talking over beers about plans to drill mine shafts into the mountains all around the bay.
Or maybe, thought Rose, she just wasn’t meant to be rooted no matter where she was. At least not yet.
She laughed aloud. A strange sentiment, maybe, when contemplating all the horrific injuries and diseases one had yet to treat all over the world. But the only one that made any sense, nonetheless.
Back into the cavern to check up on her remaining patients, then back to central planning for the departure at Griff’s workshop. There was much to be done.
“So, you can see the town actually sits on an intersection of ocean-going trade routes.” Adam was using every ruler in the workshop to make his point. “We’ve hardly seen a merchant for years because the old emperor was constantly waging war. Piracy was rampant. It just wasn’t cost-effective.”
Dr. Griffin nodded, with a sidelong glance at Jenny, who was so bored she’d been pretending to take fifteen minutes to make tea. Dan and Guy Carpenter, neither of whom he remembered letting into his house, were over in the corner with her. All three practiced exaggerated eye-rolls on each other, the original reason why long forgotten.
“But with the new peace, we’ve got reopened relations with the Kleinites in the northeast,” Adam tapped a particularly frigid-looking peninsula, “plus all the Axial States to the south. They don’t like each other, but they like us.”
“And all that means Rust Town is a perfect midpoint for storage and exchange?” Griffin guessed.
“Exactly!” Adam rolled up the map. “We can’t build warehouses to store all those goods fast enough. There’s even talk of a currency exchange in the crystal plaza.”
“Still gonna race turtles there if a bunch of bankers set up,” Guy cut in.
“Maybe you can make the bankers race!” Dan said.
All three children giggled. Adam ignored them. “You know what they’re calling us on all the continents?”
Griffin wondered how he knew this. “Not Rust Town?”
“The City of Winds.” Adam tasted the name on his tongue. Griffin didn’t think he’d ever seen the man so happy.
Soon enough, he excused himself, summoning the twins to take them back to their mother. “We’ll see you again before you leave then, Griffin?”
“Of course,” Griffin replied. “It’s not for a few days yet.”
Adam’s face turned solemn for a moment. “You know you and the others will always have a place here.”
“Yeah, we love you guys!” cried Dan.
“But Karla and Kio are still cooler,” Guy said.
Jenny stuck her tongue out. “Now I’m double-glad I didn’t offer you little poops any tea.”
And they tumbled off, while Adam’s smile returned with his goodbye, thinking, no doubt, of a visit to his son at the infirmary.
As he watched the teakettle finally boil–Jenny had indeed left it off the stove to have something to do while Adam droned about trade–Griffin’s own mind remained far less settled: were they, in fact, going to take the children from the sky away from the town that had adopted them, or not?
Jenny was thinking about the same question, and didn’t need to say anything aloud for her uncle to know that. But it wasn’t all that was on her mind. Maybe she was just tired from all the preparations–she’d spent much of the day shoving her things into a trunk–but it seemed like the steam curling out of the kettle’s spout was trying to tell her something.
It was hard to focus on, though, while distracted by her big fear: what if Karla and Kio decided they didn’t want to come?
Uncle Griff and Aunt Rose had given them all the warnings. Boats were much slower than airplanes. They would make a good living, but they’d have to go where the work was. Engineers and healers could be needed anywhere. They might not like the mainland as much as islands. Et cetera.
But as much as she agreed that the children of the sky should be able to make an informed decision, she hadn’t been able to stop sketching blueprints for a plane that would carry all five of them. Plus some luggage. It was rolled up in the trunk right now, under her clothes.
“What’s to do today?” Aunt Rose asked, before she’d made it inside. Uncle Griff went to her, and with a quick kiss said, “We’re getting all our luggage together. Just to have it out of the way.”
Jenny forgot her worries for just a second to glow with pride. Griff and Rose had definitely shown a propensity to act gross when they thought she wasn’t watching. Still, she was one hundred percent ready to take all the credit for them being together, and so pride was the right word.
Rose soon shattered her good feeling, though. “I only see three.”
“Well…” Like always, Griff rationed his words. “We aren’t sure yet.”
Rose caught Jenny’s eye. Again, the uncertainty passed without speech.
The kettle whistled. Jenny took it off the stove. She was halfway to the lab table when the steam caught her eye again.
“Jenny?” Griff asked. “Is something wrong?”
“It’s just being wasted,” she said.
Griff and Rose exchanged a worried look.
“The steam. It comes out with a lot of force, right, but then just disappears into thin air. We’d need a lot in one place, but…”
She trailed off. The blueprint was already drawing itself in her head. Not even a sudden transformation into a robin slowed her down–she flitted out the door Rose opened for her, the better to have space to think.
Maybe boats didn’t have to be so slow after all.
Sunset over the northern ocean painted the surface of the sea in every color, from orange to blue to pink and red to flashes of deep green. Gulls flew away toward the north, far too high up to reach.
Karla had found the best perch to watch it from a few days after her second landing. It sat in a cleft in the rock with a grass carpet, both open and cozy. It also didn’t take too much walking to reach.
Not that she had to do much hiking anyway. But still.
She even found she could appreciate a sunset more if she became the raven and perched on a rock, her beady bird’s eyes trained on the magnificent hues of the vast open evening. Somehow, she’d thought that the sky would grow smaller once she lived on the surface.
Instead, she saw land the way Mara had: beautiful, infinitely nested with secrets, and endless.
Being a bird also helped her figure out when there were any inauthentic orange cats sneaking up on her. Kio slinked up from beneath a ridge, and meowed in greeting–but she was already shifted, clasping him around the middle and lifting him off the ground.
“Hey. Hey!” Kio’s yowls turned into human objections right as he got too heavy to hold. They collapsed in a tangled pile, Karla laughing, Kio grumbling. “Why do you always think I’m going to sneak up on you?” he asked.
“Because I do it to you?”
“You can fly! That would be as fair a fight to pick as those paper boat races.”
Disentangled, they both looked, involuntarily, at the sky.
Karla broke her gaze first. It was silly to keep thinking, after three months, that Raptor was going to show up and snatch them back to Nashido. Or that he would show up in their dreams and tell them there’s been a mistake, that the dreams were reality, and no, they were not free. Never would be.
Staying human, she dropped down onto the grass, and patted the spot beside her. Kio sat. Karla leaned her head onto his shoulder. Together, they watched the sunset slip into its most dazzling phase, spilling light over the water as it touched the ocean.
We won this peace together, Lord Rokhshan, she thought. To speak would have been to break it.
“What are we gonna do?” Kio asked.
“About Griff and Rose and Jenny leaving?” Karla raised her head, and sat back on her elbows. “I think I know what you’re going to say.”
“That we should stay and be shepherds?” Kio exhaled. “I really did think that, a little while ago. But then I thought…”
He trailed off. She waited patiently for him to continue.
“…what if Raptor was able to manipulate my family, and turn us against the landlings, because we never went anywhere? Because we made ourselves the noble Rokhshan and made the whole earth and sky come to us?”
Carefully, Karla nodded, wanting to let him figure this out for himself. That was a privilege Kio’s life had too often stolen from him.
“I would have said we should stay behind last week. Now I’m…” He looked at her, the sunset’s colors reflected in his eyes. “…I’m actually really excited to be a wandering engineer’s mate. Nobody ever has to know we’re children of the sky or whatever, or, y’know. Shapeshifters.”
“It’ll help for sure on the road, though.”
“Yeah, I guess. Scouting.”
“I meant stealing snacks.” She punched his shoulder. “But sure, scouting.”
Kio raised his head to watch the purple clouds drifting through the trees at the top of the mountain. “What do you think?”
“I was ready to go the moment I heard the offer.” She took his hand. “It’s what we’ve wanted forever. We bled for that dream, Kio. For our promise. Now it’s here. And I for one want all the surface!”
She shouted the last bit such that it echoed off the rocks. Kio smirked. “Never expected anything less.”
“Well, there’ll be books too.” She punched his shoulder. “Nerd.”
He lay back, and she did along with him. The sky was deepening into twilight through the last rays of sunset, revealing the first speckling of stars. Behind and below them, in Rust Town–or the City of Winds, Karla thought–lights were coming on in the pub windows. People were laying down their tools after a hard day of work refurbishing the docks, rambling uphill in search of a pint and a bed.
And above? In the vast expanse of sky that would be forever painted with a story she and Kio would share without having to speak? They were beneath those airborne dramas now, the conflicts of clouds, the endeavors of birds. She could picture such things flashing across the evening air: the battle of the Harpooneers and Rokhshan, her ten long years with Kio, the comings and going of Sky Kingdoms, her tests of Raven, her leaving, her coming back, his betrayal, his redemption. Yet the sheer size of the sky would swallow them all.
And when they were gone, what she’d be left with was–as it always was–one brave curious humble tattooed boy at her side.
Watching him watch the sunset almost made her want to sob, she was so happy. But she didn’t cry. Instead, she waited for him to say what she could tell was on his tongue.
“Karla?” he asked.
“We wanted this. The surface. But we never knew what the surface really meant. What kind of life did we sign up for?”
Looking up one last time, Karla thought she could make out the grand, gliding form of a dragon against the river of stars.
“A good one,” she said.